I started the weekend with a Friday lunch treat, a big plate of paella. It was the last weekend of summer, and few things are more representative of summer for me, than freshly made paella enjoyed on a shaded terrace of a beach bar chiringuito.
Paella is one of the most iconic dishes from Spain’s gastronomy.
Like so many visitors to Spain, when I first came here years ago I wanted to order paella in a restaurant for dinner and then get frustrated that it wasn’t on the menu! How could that be?
Yet that’s like going into an English pub and ordering Sunday roast on a Tuesday evening.
The thing is, paella is a lunch dish pretty much it’s a Sunday lunch dish or a meal served at celebrations. So don’t expect it for dinner!
More than anything paella is about family and friends coming together and sharing.
The Andalusian Mediterranean paella coloured and subtly flavoured with saffron can be traced back to Moorish times. They brought rice to Europe, as well as the saffron from North African (the stems of crocus flowers), that gives the dish its distinctive yellow, amber colour.
Short-medium grain rice, the rounded, starchy type that’s just perfect for paella, has been grown in Spain, most notably in Valencia for centuries. Valencia, although probably the most famous region of Spain for rice recipes and most likely the origin of the Spanish paella (as a rustic throw-everything-in meal) has very distinct rice dishes. There are often vegetarian or just flavoured with seafood stock, and they are often baked.
The Andalusian paella by contrast is cooked in a shallow two-handled pan over direct heat and is in my mind the classic paella. It’s usually made with seafood, including clams, mussels, calamari, and prawns. There are also versions with chicken and pork and also mixed meat and seafood.
Paella is all about good times – celebrations, so expect to see over-sized paella pans bubbling away at town and village ferias.
A well made paella with fresh ingredients and real saffron is a genuine foodie pleasure.
(There’s another post about Nerja’s Burriana beach here)